Russian complaint brings accusations of censorship for Estonia

The Council of Europe, the OSCE and the Index on Censorship, an organization which campaigns for freedom of expression, have criticized Estonia this week for the country's refusal to accredit three Russian journalists for an EU ministerial meeting to be held in Tallinn this month, reported.

The same complaint stands on the media alerts website of the Council of Europe, a platform dedicated to promoting the protection of journalism and safety of journalists.

In the complaint, Sergey Kochetkov, first deputy editor-in-chief of Rossiya Segodnya, said that this was the first time that the news agency had faced such restrictions in covering high level EU events.

This criticism was echoed by OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir, who wrote on Twitter, "I urge Estonia to reconsider denied accreditation to 3 Russian journalists for EU Gymnich meeting."

In her capacity as rapporteur on Estonia, Helle Tiikmaa, head of the Estonian Union of Journalists, saw the complaint filed with the Index on Censorship before it was published. She then contacted the team of the Estonian presidency of the Council of the EU, the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other relevant authorities.

Based on the justifications she received, Tiikmaa drew up a clarification regarding the decision on Estonia's behalf, which she then sent to the head office of the Index on Censorship. "It didn't suit them," she said. "This annoyed me, because both sides should get to have their say."

On Wednesday morning, Tiikmaa sent the Index on Censorship a new clarification together with additional references, which as of noon on Saturday had not yet been published on the organization's website.

In the media alerts section of the Council of Europe's homepage, a response received from the permanent representation of Estonia to that organization has been added to the complaint by the European Federation of Journalists.

In their response, the Estonian authorities said that, according to a Council of Europe recommendation, the exercise of the right to freedom of expression carries with it duties and responsibilities, and in the context of journalism, relevant duties and responsibilities are understood to include acting in good faith in order to provide accurate and reliable information in accordance with the ethics of journalism.

Estonia argued that, as this was the case, platforms which frequently and consistently disseminate informatin that is inaccurate, distorted or false cannot be considered to be acting in accordance with the Council of Europe recommendation. In a Nov. 23, 2016 resolution, the European Parliament called Sputnik, a subsidiary of MIA Rossiya Segodnya group, a "pseudo-news agency."

"Guided by the aforementioned principles, the government agencies of Estonia reserve the right to deny access to media events to individuals or organizations which have proven not to follow the principles of journalism," the Estonian response reads. "The same principles are valid for other high level meetings held in Estonia during its EU presidency."

The response also noted that all information made available at the press events in question would be livestreamed and thus instantly and publicly accessible.

Read also: Russian embassy criticizes Estonia for not giving accreditation to journalists
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